He might be the most polarizing fighter in the UFC, but Jon “Bones” Jones showed once again Saturday night why it’s hard to argue that he’s as good as it gets in the octagon.
The UFC’s light heavyweight champion survived an early submission scare to defend his title for the fourth time, stopping Brazilian veteran Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort in the fourth round of the main event of UFC 152 in Toronto.
While the champion turned in yet another dominating performance, Belfort did make things interesting early in the first round, locking in a deep armbar from his back that left Jones struggling to break free. Jones said after the fight that he had suffered an arm injury.
“I’ve never had my arm pop like that before,” he said after showing up to the post-fight press conference in a sling. “I’ve never had my arm pop like that before. I was honestly waiting for it to break, but I wasn’t going to tap out.”
Injured or not, Jones never let Belfort back into the fight. On the ground he was consistently in top position, carving the challenger open with his trademark elbow strikes. Standing he used his considerable height and reach advantage to keep Belfort at a safe distance, scoring with punches and kicks almost at will.
The end came with Jones on top of Belfort again, landing yet another flurry of elbows before working Belfort’s free arm into a keylock. With his limb bent into an almost impossible angle, the challenger had little choice but to submit.
The win caps a stormy month for Jones, who raised the ire of many MMA fans and his boss, UFC president Dana White, in August by refusing to fight Chael Sonnen on short notice at UFC 151 after Dan Henderson was forced out of the bout with a knee injury. The entire card was scrapped and White spent a large portion of the press conference to announce the cancellation ripping Jones and his trainer Greg Jackson.
If the hostile reception from the Air Canada Centre crowd was any indication, UFC fans aren’t ready to forgive. Jones was booed early and often, with the crowd breaking into “Vitor!, Vitor!” chants throughout the bout.
There were signs Saturday night that everyone else involved is ready to move on from the controversy.
“He (Jones) and I sat down yesterday and we had a great conversation,” White said. “That went well...everything is awesome.”
White also called Saturday's win the best performance of Jones’s career, saying the champion looked “unbeatable.”
“There was a lot of questions people about Jon Jones that people kept asking over and over again, no matter who he fought or how well he fought,” White said. “There can be no more nay-saying about Jon Jones. ...You can’t deny that the kid is extremely talented and one of the best in the world.”
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson made history in the co-main event, becoming the first flyweight champion in UFC history by beating Joseph Benavidez in a split decision.
The lightest competitors in the organization at 125 pounds, Benavidez and Johnson fought at a frenetic pace through the first three rounds, bouncing all over the octagon while exchanging solid jabs and cracking leg kicks.
Benavidez took more of a grind-it-out approach in the fourth, putting Johnson on the canvass before trying to finish him with a guillotine choke. Johnson was in real trouble, but managed to wiggle free and score a takedown of his own before the round was done.
Johnson scored a pair of takedowns early in the fifth and final round, then used superior speed and movement to stay half a step of Benavidez until the final bell.
A middleweight fight on the main card between England’s Michael “The Count” Bisping and “All American” Brian Stann went three hard-hitting rounds, with the man from Manchester grabbing the win by decision.
Halifax light heavyweight Roger Hollett lost his UFC debut against veteran Matt Hamill by unanimous decision in a slow, plodding affair that was booed loudly by the Toronto crowd.
In preliminary bouts, hometown welterweight Sean Pierson went the distance against Lance Benoist, winning by unanimous decision. Much blood was spilled as Nova Scotia lightweight TJ Grant won a unanimous decision over Evan Dunham, and Sudbury, Ont., Native Mitch Gagnon beat Walel Watson with a rear naked choke in the first round of a bantamweight fight.